Q: I cannot believe the amount of trash my kids generate by bringing their lunch to school each day. I’m not ready to let them eat “mystery meat.” Any tips on how to make bagged lunch less of a landfill hazard?


A: You mean that Whole Foods bag isn’t cool enough for the kiddies? I can relate. I can also imagine a mountain of waste produced by just one well-fed kindergartener. Over the course of a year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that students in an average-size middle school can produce more than 40,000 pounds of waste. That’s a lot of sandwich bags and juice boxes. Fortunately, some companies have created stylish, reusable lunch containers. I even found an option worthy of my beloved peanut butter and honey sandwiches!

Uncommonly cool: Uncommongoods.com stocks plenty of cheeky gift and home décor ideas, including the appropriately named “Waste-Free Lunch Kit” (Item No. 18107). It features a reusable sandwich wrapper, a 16-ounce stainless steel drink bottle, a cotton napkin, two 8-ounce stainless steel containers with plastic lids and a cotton bag to carry everything in style. Did I mention that the plastic and aluminum are recycled? Now that’s uncommonly smart. The cute graphic pink and green pattern makes it user-friendly for kids or kids at heart — all for $42.

Fabulous form and function: Parents who fret over phthalates, PVC and BPAs can bookmark The Soft Landing. This site features green gear for babies as well as the pet set. The Lunchsense medium lunchbox set caught my eye because the washable container unfolds to serve as a placemat. (see photo, right) The 19-ounce container also has removable trays and lids that make it easy to expand. A drink bottle, 1-ounce container for dipping sauce and an ice pack also are included in the $39 kit.

Kid-tested and Mom-approved: Frustrated by the quality of lunches at their kids’ schools, Tammy Pelstring and Amy Hemmert decided to create a fun and healthy alternative. All that mommy group brainstorming led to the Laptop Lunch Bento Box. This $22.99 kit is BPA-free and features bento-style compartments along with a stainless steel fork and spoon with easy-grip plastic handles. These savvy moms also threw in a handy “user’s guide” filled with strategies to stretch what’s in your pantry and reduce what’s thrown into a landfill. Check the site’s photo gallery for lunch-worthy goodies you probably never considered, like deviled eggs.

Once you settle on a kit that works, consider a few green packing tips.

Buy in bulk: A large bag of granola divided into single-serving containers will cost less and generate less waste than those cute yet useless 100-calorie packages.

Think globally: Start with your kids’ friends, then approach school officials about joining the green movement. Many schools already are on board. If yours hasn’t adopted the cause, request recycle bins in the cafeteria for cans, plastics and paper products.

Compost waste: Teach kids that even “waste” has value by purchasing a compost bin for the house or simply create a compost heap in the backyard. (Need help with that? Here are some basic concepts.)

Pack a cloth napkin: This may be easier or adults who are less prone to spill. Cloth napkins add an air of refinement to your cubicle dining experience. Also, you generate less garbage.

Plan lunches together: Leftovers can get old. Turn lunch menus into a family project and look for creative snack options that perk things up. Dried cranberries and cherries can add punch to store-bought trail mix. Bananas will kick up that peanut butter sandwich, and plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey makes a great “dipping sauce” for apple wedges.

Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Photo: Lunchsense

MNN homepage photo: AtomicCupcake/iStockphoto

How can I make lunch less of a landfill hazard?
How can I make lunch less of a landfill hazard? Morieka Johnson scouts out some stylish alternatives to all the disposables that come with bagged lunches.